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Trying to catch the deluge in a paper cup: The real cause of our youth crime travesty

There is one common denominator in the tidal wave of youth crime and civil disobedience sweeping our state – drugs – and we all need to tackle it, writes Madonna King

Feb 23, 2023, updated Feb 23, 2023
Kerri-Ann Conley's children, Darcey and Chloe-Ann, who died in a hot car after being left by their mother.

Kerri-Ann Conley's children, Darcey and Chloe-Ann, who died in a hot car after being left by their mother.

First things first. The Palaszczuk Government’s youth crime plan should be applauded; it goes directly to the guts of what exhausted and fearful voters have been demanding.

And yes, the government has been dragged kicking and screaming into action, and no doubt exists that the new-three pronged youth justice plan was driven more by the almighty dent in the government’s popularity than it was a determination to fix the problem.

Despite the strong findings – and recommendations – of the Coaldrake review into government culture and accountability, this government is motivated by what makes it look good. And that’s not the same as what might be good for the people of Queensland.

But now, surely, we need to work together as a community – politicians, police, magistrates and parents – to curb the crime that is driving fear in towns across Queensland.

The plan to reintroduce breach of bail and other targeted actions directed at repeat offenders will help there. So will the proposed safety programs, like the trial of vehicle immobilisers in Cairns, Townsville and Mount Isa.

But the clincher, long term, has to be the investigation into the causes behind youth crime – because that’s the only chance of us changing this narrative long-term.

The list will be long. Ask any senior crime fighter and they’ll peg child sex abuse as a driver of youth crime. Then there’s parents who don’t care. Homelessness. Time in detention where those with a string of offences become mentors. And drug use.

To try and stem youth crime without a massive assault on drugs is a bit like the story of the finger in the dyke. The use of ice is ravaging some Queensland communities, and providing a gateway to serious crime like armed robbery and assault. It’s taking hold in workplaces and families, and breaking both.

Just consider the case of two young women, who stood before court this week. Kerri-Ann Conley and Aimee Pearl Haynes.

In 2019, Conley’s two toddler daughters died in a hot car in Logan, on a day when the temperature climbed to 33 degrees Celsius. It would have been 60 degrees celsius inside the car.

We can hate the then-27-year-old as much as we like, but it won’t bring those gorgeous children back. By Conley’s own evidence – described by her barrister – she is “a chaotic, drug-addicted and in the end delinquent mother’’ who was stupid, selfish and negligent. Drugs.

Haynes is a Warwick woman who the court heard was diagnosed with a psychotic disorder and borderline personality disorder because of “multiple drug use and use of psychoactive substances”.

Drugs.

The Warwick Daily News reported Magistrate Virginia Sturgess as saying this: “I counted through 22 previous dishonesty offences, ranging from shop stealing to stealings to frauds, one prior trespass and at least 11 previous breach bail offences.’’

Court orders were having little impact on the serial thief and a suspended sentence “was completely useless’’, Ms Sturgess said. “I strongly suspect the only thing that is going to stop you committing offences, Miss Haynes, is if you are remanded in custody and don’t have the opportunity to go into shops and steal from them.”

Despite being sentenced to nine months’ jail, Haynes walked free on immediate parole.

Magistrates need to understand the community sentiment around youth crime – but the community needs to understand that magistrates and judges can only sentence according to the statute book in front of them. And that peculiarly winds back to the authors of those laws, our politicians.

While the crime stories were seeping through the suburbs of Brisbane, it was all too easy to pass it off as ‘big city’ crime. Toowoomba changed that. Murder and mayhem in the garden city. An elderly gent asking how far can he go to protect himself in his own home. A mother scared to go grocery shopping. And teenagers armed with anger and goodness knows what else wanting to become a headline.

We can’t afford to trust our politicians to fix this problem. We’ve all got a stake in it.

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